Sunday, 30 June 2013

Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara

"It only meant that he was closer to her when he was close, but (and this was the first time the thought had come to him) maybe farther away than anyone else when he was not close."

If you are looking for a positive, up-beat read, then back away readers, this ain't it. First published in 1934 with a contemporary setting, this novel follows the demise of Julian English, awash with booze, sketchy friends and interesting female characters. Finishing this novel means I've now read 50/100 of the Modern Library 100 best English language novels - woo hoo! It is also listed in Bloom's Western Canon, so I had to check it out. 
Caroline English is fascinating, strong, intelligent and yet encumbered by a drunken husband with a penchant for inappropriate social behaviour. Her initial repulsion then attraction to her husband and gives the drunken playboy a sense of legitimacy and her final rejection is the final nail in the coffin.
The story of Al Grecco and the origins of his name made me giggle. It says something amazing about the writing that these characters import a real sense of emotions on the reader. I preferred  Butterfield 8 if truth be told, yet this comes a very close second in my estimation. I'm going to re-think my third drink after this one. 5 out of 5 champagne supernovas.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Hunt For Pierre Jnr by David M Henley


"Pete had never had a symbiot, but he knew all about them - that's why he feared them."

I was fortunate enough to attend a Sydney Writer's Festival workshop run by the author of this novel and that was my reason for picking up a copy. In many ways, I wish I had read it first as reading the book after that discussion  felt a little like watching a magic trick after the magician had revealed some of his secrets. Notwithstanding, this is a really interesting read.
The future is a strange place where people with psychic abilities are sent off to camps, to separate them from the general population, but an eight year old boy with significant powers is destined to shake up the status quo. He invades minds and leaves them as broken shells. An infant, not at the peak of his powers, with such destructive capabilities is one scary entity. Is he real, can he be found, will death and destruction ensue? Oh you are going to want to keep reading!
So, if I liked it so much, how come it didn't rank 5/5? Well, I felt the ending was a little rushed and not satisfactory unless there is a follow up to come. If  the cover had said it was book one of a series then that other point would be forthcoming. I'd invested a lot of time and interest in this world and I wanted some more.  Mostly more Tamsin, definitely more Pete and certainly more exploration of the epilogue information.
 4 out of 5 because I wanted a little more time with Jnr - or perhaps he's bent my mind.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Terminal Experiment by Robert J Sawyer

"Soon it would be  time to go public with the existence of the soulwave."

I wouldn't say I'm a pessimist per se, but whenever considering the implications of new technology my vivid imagination tends towards the worst possible scenario. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why I enjoy works of fiction that deal with darker imaginings of future scenarios. That would only be a small reason why I loved this novel. It's pace is spellbinding, running through the pages my eyes reacted to the tension of a thriller that at its heart questions the very meanings of what it means to be human.

A massive fan of some of his other works such as the WWW:Wake trilogy, I was eager to explore Sawyer's nebula award winning novel and was decidedly impressed. I feel it would detract from other readers' enjoyment to go into depth about the plot, it is action packed and yet contemplative, full of richly drawn and intriguing characters and combines science fiction with murder mystery for an assuredly entertaining experience.

This is reading all a little too gushy, I will attempt to temper my tone. Re-reading the blurb is a good indication that I can give a little of the game away. Peter Hobson, biomedical engineer, is attempting to use science to attack many of life's great questions. As is often the problem when dealing with the unknown, the side effects can be deadly.

I read this in one, fiendishly quick session of captivated reading and hope you get the chance to check it out too.  5 out of 5 Artificial intelligence doesn't taste the same.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman


"Nobody came to my seventh birthday party."

Without doubt, the highlight of my year to date was attending a Neil Gaiman event in Sydney where he so delightfully read the first two chapters of what was then his upcoming book and has now finally been released. I have been chomping at the bit to get my hands on a copy and was definitely not disappointed.
The dulcet tones of Mr Gaiman still trilled in my ears as I opened the cover of my pristine copy and began to dive into The Ocean At The End Of The Lane. This is a delicate, strange and captivating tale, an intriguing mix of harsh realities and supernatural fairy tale like occurrences.
I have no wish to give anything away, other than to say that it is a delight that you will relish. 5 out of 5, dive in now.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Remembering Babylon by David Malouf


"It was the mixture of monstrous strangeness and unwelcome likeness that made Gemmy Fairley so disturbing to them, since at any moment he could show either one face or the other; as if he were always standing there at one of those meetings, but in his case willingly, and the encounter was an embrace."

This novel is marvellously evocative of another time and I was quite surprised to see it was published only in 1993. The winner of a raft of awards, it is 200 pages of beautifully crafted prose. Raising questions of what it means to be human, part of a particular society, growing up and growing apart in a densely, almost poetic format.
The story of Gemmy, a white English boy raised by aborigines, who returns to white society acts as both a catalyst and conundrum. The settlers struggle to accept him as one of their own, particularly as the violent settlement of the land continues further afield.
The manner in which the tale is told ebbs and flows across a number of narrative perspectives, yet still engages with the reader. Ultimately, it seems to me this book is about the terror of the other and the realisation that perceived differences may not be as vast as first supposed.

 4 out of 5 somewhere in the mid 19th Century.

Distrust That Particular Flavor by William Gibson



"We are that strange species that constructs artifacts intended to counter the natural flow of forgetting."

Any new work by the father of cyber punk is sure to warrant another purchase from me, however I was quite surprised that this new offering was non fiction. A selection of articles, speeches and forewords delivers some interesting insights into the mind of such an intriguing author. There is more here than just a sexy, sparkly cover.
Sadly I could relate way too closely to the article on ebay addiction engendered by antique watch collection ( my weakness was classic films). It is also particularly interesting to note Gibson's initial reluctance to embrace email and the internet.
The interesting ideas espoused herein could bear further exploration and my score reflects a wish for a little more rather than any major issue with the book.  4 out of 5, I remember faxes too.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Alfred Hitchcock A Life in Darkness by Patrick McGilligan

"When Hitchcock wasn't dreaming of grand-scale epics, he was recalling past ideas that had eluded him."

This whopping volume attempts to provide quite a comprehensive view on the life and works of my favourite director. I guess reading an 864 book is not the best way to reach my 250 book goal for this year, but this non-fiction work was concerned with one of my favourite subjects - queue the Marionette's Funeral March.
Focusing mainly on the auteur's epic work this tome provides some really intriguing insight, negating much of the supposition of some of the earlier biographies I have read. There's less of a focus on the impact of the Hitchcock blonde and more emphasis on the collaborative aspects of his works. The input of writers, his wife Alma and other various members of the creative team and the tension inherent in translating a novel into film are central themes. There are some wonderful photos at the centre of the book which add the requisite Hollywood sheen.
Of particular interest is the interaction with Europe - the impact of German techniques, the acclaim from France, in stark contrast to the more pop culture emphasis of the English speaking world. If you, like me, love a bit of Alfred then this book is certain to peak your interest.  5 out of 5 unexplained bird attacks remain unaccounted for.


Friday, 21 June 2013

Joyland by Stephen King

"The first time was embarrassing. The second time was good. The, the third time was the charm."

I have been desperate to secure a copy of this book since first laying eyes on the sexy cover. Undeniably gorgeous with a distinct noir look that appeared to differentiate the work from the author's usual offerings.

While deploying typical noir vernacular, copied with a seedy cast of carnies -this was the guy who played on many people's fear of clowns in IT after all, the novel is ultimately situated within the realm of King's usual work. Small town, relateable characters that find themselves in exceptionally challenging circumstances featuring plenty of supernatural goings on.

Having spent much of my time at high school devouring King's scary works, I took a break whilst he delved into fantasy and returned to the fold with an appreciation of last year's time-travel themed 11.22.63.My expectations, based on the cover initially, were much higher in this instance and perhaps that is the reason why I didn't score it as high. I felt the look was a little disingenuous in relation to the story.

Despite the macguffin-like cover, I really enjoyed the story, the character of Devin is beautifully realised and who could fail to love Mike? King is always at his best with a loss of innocence and exploring the shift from childhood to adulthood. The clunkly mechanics of the supernatural aspects were perhaps a little distracting here and too reminiscent of some of his earlier works. So, to summarise, while I really enjoyed this, it wasn't my favourite Stephen King novel and didn't quite live up to the awesomeness that was the cover. Suggesting a James M Cain style, noir, pulp fiction experience leads the reader down the garden path before they begin.  4 out of 5 appearances can be deceiving, don't judge a book by its cover and all that jazz.

The Atrocity Exhibition by J.G. Ballard


"Science is the ultimate pornography, analytic activity whose main aim is to isolate objects or events from their contexts in time and space."

This is perhaps one of those instances where the cover can be a little deceptive. Opening the pages of this 'novel' is akin to walking into a challenging exhibition. The imagery is dense and further explained by the updated annotations. Regardless of the vivid descriptions there is a sense of remove, like walking through the exhibition and wondering where the unifying story is. I much prefer Ballard's other more traditionally structured works which share themes whilst employing more of a narrative focus.
An appreciation of the craft deployed is not enough for me to give this a phenomenal score.  3 out of 5 flashes of brilliance but  no real cohesion.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom


"Once I had been a pupil of the monks; then I had become the enemy of all they stood for. Now I was in a position to delve into the heart of their mysteries and corruption."

Investigating a hideous crime is never easy, particularly when the particulars include - a dangerous monastery setting in the midst of Cromwell's push away from Rome, decapitation and getting around with a hunched back.
I thoroughly enjoyed Dissolution, it certainly transports the reader to another age in a vivid and exciting fashion. The thriller aspect is omnipresent and forced me to continually question, whodunit?
The relationship between lawyer Matthew Shardlake and his off-sider, Mark, is delightful - particularly when they are both distracted by the same comely woman.
Early in the wee hours of this morning when I put this novel down, I went to sleep smiling at just how much I enjoyed reading it. I thought I might be uninterested in a thriller set in a monastery, but then thought back to how much I had also liked  The Name of the Rose and decided to give it a try. This particular work is also another tick on the Guardian's 1000 novels you must read list.  5 out of 5 wall to wall sinister monks.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Hit by Melvin Burgess

"She hadn't even thought about love until the night before last, when Jimmy Earle died onstage in front of them and they'd spent the night out on the streets, caught up in the riots."

A drug that gives you the ultimate high - a week of ecstasy and then death proves to be a thrilling conceit in The Hit.   Adam and Lizzie, youngsters from different sides of the tracks, get caught up in some thrilling drama after attending the final concert of rock star Jimmy Earle.
This novel kept me awake til one in the morning, it was, dare I say, a little addictive. The pace is fantastic and while I wasn't 100% behind the finale, it was certainly entertaining. I guess this stems from the central ideas played out. While the two lead characters make for a flush of youth modern take on Romeo and Juliet that is easy to relate to; the murkier types are less convincing.  Don't even get me started on badly dressed psychopath and idiot son of chief gangster, Christian.
I eagerly devoured this one, but it ultimately left me with a bit of a come down.  4 out of 5 love is the drug.

Stoner by John Edward Williams

"So Stoner began where he had started, a tall, thin, stooped man in the same room in which he had sat as a tall, thin, stooped boy listening to the words that had led him to where he had come."

Prepare for an onslaught of superlatives because I just loved this book. It so perfectly describes an ordinary life from hope  to disappointment, from youth to adulthood with moments of delight and despair. Leaving his parents on the farm, studious William Stoner leaves for a life of academia, transferring from agricultural studies to literature.
That description does not nearly do this book justice. It was a joy to read. I felt like I really knew Stoner, I'd lived besides him and enjoyed the odd moments of joy. His relationship with his daughter and wife particularly seems so real.
5 out of 5 sepia toned real life.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion by Alain de Botton

"In essence, religions understand that to belong to a community is both very desirable and not very easy."

Well I've tripped and fell into the realm of non fiction once again and this offering is a particularly interesting one. It explores all the things you might potentially miss that are the positive sides of religion in a secular life and attempts to incorporate the positives within that framework. The comments on the photography included are at times a little tongue in cheek and hilarious. Having said that, there are some really interesting ideas expressed here that certainly bear consideration. I found certain chapters more engaging than others - split as they are thematically. I'm not sure how much I can add to this one. Maybe check it out for yourself.  4 out of 5.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor

"The vision of the two hats, identical, broke upon him with the radiance of a brilliant sunrise."

Sometimes it feels that life goes around in circles. Take for example my choice of reading material today. I originally fell in love with O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find  when introduced to it in the 90s at university ( I'm not bitter but if I was to ever get a tattoo it would probably be of that adage). In any case, I  was reminded how long ago  I had read that collecction today whilst in the co-op bookstore in a nostalgic fit of bliss and with this later short story collection in my bag.
As is often the case with a collection of short stories, there are certain tales that resonate more than others. The titular tale, in particular, is unforgettable and exquisitely delivered.  My other favourite was  Parker's Back -some people are just never happy no matter what extremes you go to in order to get their attention. Also, getting a tattoo to illicit a reaction out of someone is probably never a good idea.
I am exceedingly grateful to my friend Nicki for lending me her copy and I only wish I'd explored this little gem earlier. An added bonus is that I can tick off another book from my 1001 list. 5 out of 5 tasty little morsels.

Fly Away Peter by David Malouf


"But what came to him most clearly was how the map in his own head, which he had tested and found accurate, might be related to the one the birds carried in theirs, which allowed them to find their way - by landmarks, was it? - halfway across the world."

Like birds that grow up in their bird sanctuary and migrate away, so the war adventures of  Jim and Ashley take them far away from Imogen and ordinary life at the bird sanctuary. Malouf's description of war is completely unforgettable. Charlie's death in particular is so gut-wrenchingly realised  that hours after completing the book I found myself thinking about it.
For me the novel draws strong parallels between the life of birds and men in a beautifully descriptive fashion. It is hard to believe that such a thin volume is so rich. A gorgeous symphony of words that tugs at the emotions, this is an amazing piece of work.  5 out of 5 this novel takes flight.

Wool by Hugh Howey


"Lives distilled onto twenty or so sheets of recycled pulp paper, bits of string and darts of random colour woven beneath the black ink that jotted their sad tale."

The first of a dystopian trilogy launches in a spectacular fashion. Don't let the title fool you, this novel has nothing to do with knitting or thermal underwear. Living in a silo, in a highly controlled environment, those who question the status quo are destined for a murky end, but one woman has other ideas. I often wonder if the current fixation on dystopian fiction is a reflection that the world is a shitty place or that the 24 hour news cycle has made us feel that way about it - but that 's just a side note - back to the book...

Apparently this was originally self published in 5 instalments, however I read the novel version. Apparently I'm not that quick on this bandwagon. In fact, I was tempted to investigate this novel after it appeared on abc's  First Tuesday Book Club  which, coincidentally, I watched the taping of today. So, I have to say a big thank you to Jennifer Byrne and co for introducing me to this book.

It is compelling reading with an all pervasive sense of impending doom and claustrophobia with the action taking place underground in a strange future, whose secrets are slowly and partially revealed. What has driven man underground? Is there only one silo? Is there anyone else out there? These questions drive the narrative and keep the pages flying by.

I suppose a great testament to how much I enjoyed the novel was that I ordered the sequel before I had even finished the first instalment. So its  5 out of 5  scary cleaning jobs never sound fun.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

"All that was left for me was a terrible kind of paralysis, this waiting game, this heartbreak game."

There is something magnetic about the unfettered machismo of Hemingway's writing, it smells of sweat and blood and lust and pure masculinity, in a way I find utterly compelling. Not in a million years, however, could I imagine myself married to a man like Ernest Hemingway. Paula McLain has done a fantastic job of creating this historical fiction, imagining what life might have been like for Hadley Richardson, Hemingway's first wife.

A traumatic childhood is left behind as young Hadley falls head over heels for the exciting artist. She soon learns that the demands of a child and everyday life do not sit well with a man who seeks constant adventures for inspiration and  who puts his desire to achieve literary success above and beyond all else.

Ultimately this is a tragic love story where the ending will be known already to most readers. It is not the most amazingly written book, however there are moments that might have you reaching for the Kleenex. Certainly I'd say reading one of Hemingway's works is by far the superior experience, however, sitting by the fire on a cold winter's day, this was just the ticket for a relaxing, easy read.

The novel has certainly made me eager to read Paris Without End : The True Story of Hemingway's First Wife by Gioia Diliberto for a non-fiction perspective.  5 out of 5 - I blame Woody Allen and  Midnight in Paris for my current obsession with this particular time in history and its spellbinding characters.

The Iron Heel by Jack London

"In the wolf-struggle of those centuries, no man was permanently safe, no matter how much wealth he amassed. Out of fear for the welfare of their families men devised the scheme of insurance. To us, in this intelligent age, such a device is laughably absurd and primitive."

Having read other Jack London tales, this one comes as quite a shock. It reads more like a socialist manifesto in part. Delivering as it does a type of alternate history of a dystopian future as imagined by the author and first published in 1908.
There are, however, aspects of the novel that ring eerily true today in the days of global corporations, the narrowing of the middle class and the growing chasm between the haves and have nots.

Avis, through her blossoming relationship with Ernest, garners an increasing awareness of the desperate world around her as the novel continues on to its premature end.

I struggle to qualify this book as good, bad or indifferent. There are moments  of brilliance - such as the quote about insurance above, coupled with dry didactic styled writing that I found really difficult to focus on. This was, in part, I believe due to an expectation that labelled as science fiction ( as it is in many areas) I expected something different and more adventure in keeping with London's other famous works. On reflection, perhaps they are not so different after all. This is the tale of the struggle of the pack of man, as compared to say  The Call of the Wild  or  White Fang where he explores canine adventures. Perhaps my perception is coloured by my having read these other novels as a child and not seeing their deeper themes.

This is an interesting work, yet not one I'd gladly revisit.  3 out of 5 thought police might agree.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

"By five o’clock that Saturday afternoon we were lovers. It didn’t run smoothly, there was no explosion of relief and delight in the meeting of bodies and souls."

Starting out, it seemed this was the kind of novel I was destined to enjoy - a female protagonist in the world of espionage, love, drama and literary intrigue- tick, tick, tick in all the boxes. Yet, I was strangely distracted. Something just read a little too much like a man talking about a woman, there was a sense of remove. 

**Possible spoiler alert.**

My sense of disappointment was completely turned on its head by the finale. The revelation of the narrator's true identity was masterful. I'd happily read this again, just to review it in light of the ending. I am a person who detests re-reading books - I usually remember too much of them - but it in this case it would definitely prove interesting.

A quick read. An interesting read. Certainly worth checking out, even if you didn't grow up with dreams of becoming a bookish female James Bond.  5 out of 5, spook sponsored literature - well it saves them reading Facebook.

Monday, 3 June 2013

The Tailor of Panama by John le Carré

"For a tailor, Harry Pendel is unexpectedly physical. Perhaps he is aware of this, because he walks with an air of power restrained."

Normally, I would expect to be waxing lyrical about how much I enjoyed my latest foray into Le Carré's literary body of work. This, however, really isn't the case here. There was something all a little too distant with this particular novel. I didn't loathe it, nor am I compelled to overwhelmingly recommend it.

I think the mention of Graham Greene's   Our Man in Havana in the author's acknowledgement really was the straw the broke the camel's back. In this case a clear comparison with that far superior work, cast this one in a poor light.

As usual with these kinds of spy novels there are a lot of plots and intrigues, but I couldn't help but see what was going to occur from the get go and that made it a trifle unsatisfactory.
3 out of 5 great tailoring but better works on the runway.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Stargazer by Claudia Gray

"I went through it all: the crackling sound of ice, the unearthly green-blue glow, the frost man's face and his final, shattered glass warning."

It has been quite some time since I read the first Evernight novel and I just had an inclination for some more YA supernatural fiction. It hits me at the oddest times.
In any case, it was time to travel back to the strange private school where vampires and humans attend side by side. The humans completely oblivious to the different species of their classmates.

There's more drama, a continuing love triangle hinted at in the first book and a new source of terror. Throw in terrorist style vampire killers and you might get a hint of what you are in for. An easy read with a steady pace, the requisite number of thrills and spills and a driving urge to see what transpires in the next volume.  4 out of 5 fangs for the memories.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

"Every sort of trouble I can think of, we've tried it out- become expert at some of it, even, so much so that I've come to wonder whether artists in particular seek out hard times the way flowers turn their faces to the sun."

The shining lights of the golden couple's heyday are beautifully transposed against the reality of a troubled marriage in Fowler's re-imagining of the world of the Fitzgeralds. A captivating read,  perfectly timed to coincide with my visit to the cinema to see The Great Gatsby.

I was fortunate to be able to read a copy of this novel that had caught my Aunt's eye in a bookstore on a weekend trip to Bowral, and finish reading it on a flight to Adelaide - yes this book has done some mileage.

The spirit of Zelda's novel Save Me The Waltz  is clearly captured here and whilst the tale is, as anyone familiar with their story knows, sad, this is a beautifully executed work which I enthusiastically enjoyed. 5 out of 5 crazy lifestyles can lead to a bitter end.